The Feynman way!

Imagine for one moment that you find yourself not been able to understand a difficult concept or if you get the grasp of it, you find it difficult to explain it to anyone? And within that moment, what do you do? Do you just give up? Do provide yourself with the false confidence ‘Yeah, I know it or I get it?’ I would be lying if I said I haven’t fallen for the ‘Yeah, I know it‘ trap. And, to remedy that I came across a technique known as the Feynman Technique.

Breakdown of the technique

  1. Engage or choose a concept of interest that you wish to expand your understanding. Hint – avoid complicated jargon to mask your understanding.
  2. Critical to this step, the method of delivery – the use of simple and colloquial language that can be used to teach a 6th grader. Express your ideas with simplicity for instances, work through example problems to highlight the methodology of a concept.
  3. Fill in the gaps – using relevant literature to fill in the missing information to explain the concept with clarity. In the event of explaining this to a 6th grader, break down technical terms. Anticipate follow up questions like – ‘what does that mean?’ or ‘what happens if you changed this?’.
  4. Review material or provide simplification – if you are unable to explain the concept to a 6th grader, review your material so, it’s understandable. Since the ultimate test of understanding is able to convey it to others.

The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.– Mortimer Adler

The beauty of this technique it generalises the concept by indicating any limitation in your knowledge and highlights areas of improvement. By positioning yourself to explain a concept, you are not only creating new neural pathways to build “an explanation picture”, but you’re also reinforcing yourself to build core ideas of that concept from memory and in this way activating recall of what you have understood.

While writing this post, I’d a reminiscing flashback to when I was mentoring – a placement student at work. Someone who’s battling a ‘don’t care attitude’, I quickly realised the best way to approach, this 10th grader is not through the bombardment of information. But to set him a problem to solve. The mistakes he made or questions he expressed ‘how do I do this?’ or ‘what does that mean?’ enabled me to explain the concept through active recall which enabled him to make progress.

Feynman Technique is a difference-maker in leveraging our learning – to heighten our ability to tear apart what we understand and reconstruct it for others. And, if we practise this technique consistently, we can turn those false ‘Yeah, I get it‘ statements to thing of actuality.